Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags


Available: Sold
Frame Size (H x L): 91" x 78.25"
Flag Size (H x L): Approx. 42' on the fly
Commission pennants are the distinguishing mark of a commissioned U.S. Navy ship. The design consists of a narrow blue canton, followed by one red over one white stripe. A ship becomes commissioned when this pennant is hoisted. Flown during both times of peace and war, the only time the pennant is not flown is if a flag officer or civilian official is aboard and replaces it with his/her own flag.

Homeward Bound Pennants (a.k.a., Coming Home Pennants) were not part of Navy regulations, but were a matter of tradition. These are limited to ships that had been outside the United States for at least 270 consecutive days. Flown in place of the normal commission pennant, they were hoisted from the time the ship got under way to a U.S. port and remained at mast until sunset on the day of arrival.

Early on, commission pennants had a number of stars equal to that on the national flag. As more and more states joined the Union, however, it became impractical to use the full complement of stars, especially on smaller examples. During the mid-late 19th century, many substituted 13 stars for the full count, to reflect the original colonies and to mirror the star count used by the navy on most of the Stars & Stripes flags that it flew on small craft. "U.S. Navy small boat ensigns," as they are called, most often had 13 stars.

Early commission pennants could reach as long as 100 feet on the fly, while homeward bound pennants could conceivably be of equally great length. A small pennant was 20-30 feet, though even smaller examples were sometimes used. Those in the 8-20 foot range sometimes bore 7 stars, for reasons unknown. Sometime around 1910, the function of commission pennants leaned away from identification and more toward ceremony and custom. By WWI (U.S. involvement 1917-18) all such signals bore 7 stars and the largest measured just two-and-a-half inches by six feet.

Because longer examples appear to have been regularly discarded, they are somewhat of a rarity in the antiques marketplace. Often mistaken for merely a piece of flag, they were destined to be overlooked by family members when salvaging important relics from an estate of a sailor.

The difficulty in distinguishing a commission pennant from a homeward bound pennant is that they look the same. Only the number of stars differed. Homeward bound pennants received one star for the ship's first 9 months continuously outside U.S. waters, then another star for each additional 6 months. The length of the pennant was to be one foot for each member of the crew who had been on duty outside the United States for nine months or more, but was not supposed to exceed the length of the ship itself.

Once the ship arrived home, a homeward bound pennant was traditionally divided among the crew, with the captain getting the blue segment and stars and the crew dividing the red and white striped portion equally. Coming home pennants are rare and this would probably explain why.

Most of the pennants that I encounter that date between the 19th century through the 19-teens are commissioning pennants with the tell-tale 13 stars that identify their function, plus a few with 7 stars. While a ship could theoretically be out of the U.S. for exactly the number of months to arrive at a count of 13 stars, the probability that any given example with 13 stars is a coming home pennant is understandably slim. Every navy ship had a commissioning pennant, but few had homeward bound pennants and most of these were cut up and souvenired by the crew.

A further factor allowing proper distinction may exist in a pennant's construction. Commissioning pennants would normally be brought aboard ship before it set out, made by the Navy's own professional flag-makers or else commercially produced to an officer's specifications. The coming home pennant, on the other hand, was traditionally sewn aboard ship, or perhaps made by modifying a commissioning pennant.

  Some of the pennants that I have encountered have a star count that does not seem to be easily explained. Made by E.L. Rowe & Sons, a known flag and sail-maker in Gloucester, Massachusetts, this particular example bears 14 stars. Probably made between 1890 and 1895, it measures 42 feet in length on the fly. Notably large among surviving counterparts, it represents the largest signed example that I have seen.

If Homeward bound pennants were typically made aboard ship, then one would not expect to find an example with a formal maker's mark, especially one from a flag-maker within the United States, to which the ship was theoretically returning. Because the flag appears to have been flown very little and does not seem to have been altered, the reason behind the 14 star count remains unknown.

The stripes and canton of the pennant are made of wool bunting and pieced with a lineal machine stitch. The stars are made of cotton and are double-appliquéd (applied to both sides) with a lineal machine stitch. There is a heavy canvas binding along the hoist, sewn in the same manner, that encases a metal rod for extra support. There is a single, whip-stitched grommet, reinforced with a metal ring on the interior. This was added after the maker's mark was applied with a black stencil that reads: "E.L. Rowe & Son, Makers, Gloucester, Mass." E.L. Rowe was in business as early as 1869 (the earliest date I have found for them). Sometime after the firm added "& Son" to its name. It appears this way in 1898 and they were operating under that title in 1913, but I have found no further information for them after that year.

Supposedly this pennant was aboard one of the ships in Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet (1907-1909), per some sort of note that accompanied the flag in modern times. The note was also modern, however, has since been lost, and I can find no information that supports the claim.

What I can say is that the date of manufacture, suggested by the construction, would place it in the first half of the 1890's as opposed to the first decade of the 20th century. Given this fact, it could be that the count of 14 stars somehow relates to the 100th anniversary of the addition of Vermont, which became our 14th state in 1791. Because I have never seen a pennant that I felt had this sort of commemorative star count, (with the obvious exception of 13 stars), an association of this kind seems unlikely. The coincidence is interesting enough, however, to be worth noting. In addition, if the pennant was actually used on the voyage of the Great White Fleet, the U.S.S. Vermont, which participated in the cruise, would have been a likely candidate to have flown it. The event was one of great pomp and circumstance and symbolic references were not out of the question. This would also explain the reason behind the commercial manufacture. If the U.S.S. Vermont flew the pennant, it would have probably flown it as a commission pennant, and would likely have left port with multiple examples in ships stores. Flags flown at sea saw hard use and required frequent replacement.

Another possibility is that the star count was merely a mistake, with the intended number being 13. Because I have seen obvious mistakes in 13 stars flags on more than one occasion, both adding an extra star and omitting one, the likelihood of this scenario is also worth mention. It is also possible, of course, that a ship might simply order and receive a Homeward Bound Pennant by commercial means. Whatever the case may be, the 14 star count is a curious and interesting feature.

Mounting: The flag was mounted and framed in our own conservation department, which is led by masters degree trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and preservation of flags and have framed thousands of examples.

The fabric is cotton twill, black in color. The black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed molding is Italian, has a wide ogee profile and a rippled inner lip. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.

Condition: There is extremely minor mothing throughout, accompanied by two modestly affected areas near to where the canton meets the stripes, and an area of moderate loss at the fly end.
Collector Level: Advanced Collectors and the Person with Everything
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 14
Earliest Date of Origin: 1890
Latest Date of Origin: 1909
State/Affiliation: Massachusetts
War Association:
Price: SOLD

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